Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
9 Ways to Protect Your Heart from Overeating
“How much weight have you gained?” My mother asked me over the Christmas break after my first semester of college.
“I’m not sure,” I responded. Really I knew. You have probably heard of the “freshman 15” before. For me, it was the freshman 25.
It wasn’t healthy I know. Plaque build up in the heart can even start as a child.
Food is hard. Free food and buffets are even harder. Is there a way to eat mindfully while protecting your heart?
In this article, I will share with you the science behind 9 mindful eating approaches to protect your heart from overeating without feeling deprived.
The Chinese Food Buffet Study
Believe it or not, there was actually a study published on how thin people and overweight people approached an all-you-can-eat Chinese food buffet. In this study, researchers analyzed 213 people from 11 different all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets across the U.S. What they noticed is that thin people and overweight people behaved quite differently at a buffet.
While this study was done at a Chinese restaurant, the lessons can be applied to any eating location, including your own home. Most of the 9 mindful eating strategies discussed in this article were learned from this Chinese Food Buffet Study.
Unfortunately, with ever increasing portion sizes, we have no idea what a healthy serving size is anymore. Moreover, we have lost our internal cues telling us we are full. As a result, most people eat too much with each meal. Even if you only eat healthy foods, you can still gain weight if your portion sizes are too big.
Mindful eating strategies have been closely associated with an increased ability to maintain a healthy weight. This study is just one of many published studies showing that mindful eating can help you to control portion sizes and your weight. Below are 9 ways to protect your heart from overeating.
9 Ways to Protect Your Heart from Overeating
1. Use a Smaller Plate
Multiple plate sizes were available at these Chinese restaurants in the Chinese Food Buffet Study. As I have discussed in a previous article, regardless of your plate size, most people have been trained to eat everything on their plate.
In this study, thin people selected smaller plates. This strategy can be especially helpful if you are the type to eat everything on your plate. Indeed, studies show that switching out your 12-inch plates for 10-inch plates results in eating 22% less without feeling hungry.
2. Increase the Distance
In this study, thin people were more likely to sit further away from the buffet line than overweight people. The more distance you can put between you and the food, the less you will eat. This works for any temptation, it is what I like to call the “hassle factor.”
If it takes more energy to get food, you will be less likely to do it. It is just human nature. Instead of serving meals from the table, try serving meals from the counter. It may prevent second or third helpings.
3. Use Chopsticks
Interestingly, thin people in the Chinese Food Buffet Study were much more likely to use chopsticks than a fork. You simply cannot shovel food in your mouth as fast with chopsticks compared to a big fork or a big spoon. Each bite is slow and deliberate with chopsticks.
This is something that we have regularly done in our home. Our kids love chopsticks. Even if you are serving Western style foods, eating with chopsticks can provide an added level of excitement.
4. Take Time to Select Your Food
While at the Chinese buffet, thin people were more inclined to carefully evaluate all of their food options before putting food on their plates. In contrast, overweight people immediately started loading up their plates at the beginning of the buffet line.
Don’t just eat what is convenient. Rather, carefully take your time to decided exactly what you want to eat.
5. Use Good Manners
At the Chinese buffet, thin people were more likely to put a napkin on their lap. While this may sound trivial, focussing on proper table manners helps to slow down the eating process.
It takes 20-30 minutes for the brain to register that you are full. As most people eat until they are full, slowing down the process can allow you to feel full with smaller portions.
6. Don’t Finish Your Plate
While 92% of Americans clean off their plate, interestingly, thin people in the Chinese Food Buffet Study were more likely to leave food on their plates. Just because food is left on your plate doesn’t mean you have to finish it off.
I am a “finisher.” I eat everything on my plate. Unless I move physically my plate away from me, I will continue to nibble until my plate is completely clean.
7. Chew Your Food
Your mother always told you to chew your food well. In this study, thin people chewed 15 times per bite of food compared to just 12 times per bite of food in overweight people.
I have always struggled with chewing my food well. I tend to inhale my food. Based on the results of this study, I am striving to chew my food at least 15 times for every bite.
8. Vegetables First
Studies show that what goes on the plate first is eaten in greatest quantities. The key to heart healthy eating is to eat vegetables whenever possible.
9. Fruit for Desert
Some of us, like me, seem to have been born with a sweet tooth. Fortunately, studies show that we can channel our sweet tooth into a love for fruits.
While fortune cookies are generally served at American Chinese food buffets, fortune cookies are not found in China. Rather, fruit is eaten for desert in China. The same can be true in Western countries.
Take Home Message
The key message to this study is that you don’t have to diet or starve yourself to maintain a healthy weight and protect your heart. By following the 9 mindful eating strategies discussed in this article, you can significantly increase your chances of staying thin and controlling your portion sizes.
Have you tried any of these 9 mindful eating approaches? Please share your experience below.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.